Plato and Aristotle on Happiness and the Good

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What is happiness? And can we define it individually or does it have to correspond with the society we live in? Every action aims at some good, and that good is defined by the majority of the community that we live in. And thus it pleases us to think that we are doing the right thing, and bothers us to think that we are not. But I think that it is more bothersome to be told by someone else whether we are happy or not. For who is a better judge of our own happiness than ourselves? No one can be happy all the time, for humans are too rational to be deduced to one such idea or state of mind. But we can try to maximize our happiness by doing things or engaging in certain activities. Both Aristotle and Plato believe that the best of these activities is philosophical contemplation and that the second best is living a life of virtue and justice. To maximize our happiness we must at least be living in accordance with moral virtues, and if there is time for moral contemplation, then it is a nice bonus. Aristotle would also add that a small component of happiness depends not only upon virtue, but also upon wealth, pleasure and the opportunity for leisure. If we could validate a point system for being happy than mathematically speaking those who are wealthy, privileged, educated, and highly regarded in society would be the happiest. The rest of us would fall somewhere below this number and blend together in an adequate range of happiness. This is to say that our happiness is largely if not almost completely dependent on our place in society. The main deduction that arises from both Plato and Aristotle’s thinking is that happiness is not subjective, but objective. Neither Plato nor Aristotle defines happiness on its own, but rather they look to the things that can lead to it. So it is important for us to look at such things. Aristotle believes that happiness can be achieved through the cultivation and practicing of virtues. Aristotle managed to equate the intended life for...
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